Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire – Same, same, but different

So I’ve been playing a lot of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire lately. A lot. Like I’ve been forgoing food and sleep in order to get an extra hour of sailing around a digital archipelago hunting pirates and a dead god that’s stolen part of my soul while also flirting relentlessly with a yellow sharpshooter and her bird (apparently they’re a package deal and I’m cool with that) before work. And, seven – sorry, eight – dozen hours of gameplay later I am still loving it.

And that’s a bit of a surprise, because I didn’t enjoy the first Pillars of Eternity this much. Now don’t get me wrong, it was a great game, they did an amazing job with it. It never quite managed to hold me all the way to the end, though. As great as the lore and world-building was, so many of the quests seemed a bit standard, and often felt oddly lacking in nuance and consequence (who cares which faction you side with in Defiance Bay, if everything goes down the same anyway?) The characters and their arcs were great, but controlling them was a frustrating affair at best and more than once a rage quit at worst. I wanted to know what happened next, but the combat encounters stopped being fun a few hours in and never really started again. So I stopped.

But Deadfire is different, without losing what I liked so much about the first game. The lore, if anything, is even richer. The various factions are big and established, with their own longterm goals beyond your own quest to deal with a newly arisen god, and internal disagreements on how to reach those goals. The non-player characters are a delight, and form their own relationships as your quests go on (everyone wants to be Xoti’s mate). Best of all the combat has been cleaned up. It’s no longer about resource management, as you hoard magic spells for the next possible battle and a lot more about placement and tactics. A little less micromanagement and a lot more fun. Yet, it’s still basically the same combat system.

There’s this wine I love from Jasper Hill Vineyard, a gorgeous fiano, that’s produced under the label ‘Lo Stesso.’ The name comes from an Italian phrase that translates, more or less, to “Same, same, but different.” The idea is that it takes a fairly traditional Italian grape, and adds an Australian twist to it. Keeps those old world flavours, but finishes with new world textures. And it’s fucking delightful. Like Deadfire. Same, same, but different.

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View from this side of the Ocean (29/4/18): Haha, yeah.

From the beginning I want to make it very clear that, no matter the circumstances, I think that the tampon tax is stupid and should be axed. In Australia, that means the 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST) which is levelled on anything deemed non-essential.

Which is odd considering that tampons are pretty fuckin’ essential to most women.

So Bill Shorten, leader of the federal Labor Party in opposition, has come out and said that they will remove the GST on sanitary pads if they win the next election (which they most likely will, according to current polling). Tanya Plibersek, deputy leader of the opposition, and Catherine King, shadow health minister, will spearhead the initiative provided Labor win, formally launching the policy today. Awesome.

Federal Liberal MP Sarah Henderson and the Liberal Women’s Council Victoria called on Scott Morrison, the Federal Treasurer, to dump the tax last year, so there’s a push within the government itself to support the initiative (if only to shore up a little support with women). Joe Hockey wanted to ditch the tax back in 2015, but Tony Abbott, PM and ‘Minister for Women’ (hahahaha), overruled him. Apparently at the time he said that: “We have to broaden the tax base, not start carving out politically correct exceptions.” Seriously, fuck that guy.

There will be some pressure on Malcolm Turnbull to support this issue. Will he? No fuckin’ idea if I’m being perfectly honest. Mr Turnbull would be wise to earn himself some goodwill amongst women by supporting the issue, but a number of members of his party seem to freak the fuck out at the thought of doing anything that might have any sort of positive effect on Australian women. Because fuck socialism, apparently. So we’ll see. I’d reckon Mr Turnbull’d be inclined to, but we’ll see.

And yeah, I’d reckon that a fair bit of Labor’s play in the issue is shoring up their own female vote against any turn towards the Greens, but one of the major political parties has made this policy and that is bloody fantastic.

What I really like about this particular policy though, is where Labor plans on making up the GST shortfall. They haven’t released full costings yet (and that is always a concern), but Labor reckon they can make up the shortfall by applying GST to services and products that the “Chief Medical Officer and National Health and Medical Research Council believe are not supported by scientific evidence.”

What do they mean by that? Well, homeopathy, iridology, kinesiology, naturopathy, pilates, reflexology, rolfing and shiatsu would all have GST added to the price. And seriously, why has all of this shit been GST exempt? Who the flyin’ fuck thought that goddamn healing crystals should be GST exempt while sanitary products that half the adult and adolescent population NEED are not?

So yeah, so far I’m chalking this up as a victory of common sense over bullshit. Let’s see where Aussie pollies go next with this. Here’s hoping they do the right thing.

Once in a lifetime laundry lessons

So I moved about a three weeks ago. It’s been a bit stressful, partly because it was shorter notice than I was expecting and partly because the only furniture I had to take with me was my bed. I’ve basically started from scratch, and honestly moving to fucking Canada (and then back to Australia twenty months on) was easier, if only because I booked the tickets months in advance and gave myself time to plan. But it’s done now and I love my little apartment. Will love it even more when my new couch finally arrives.

Funny thing though, moving. It’s full of very specific lessons that you probably will never use more than once a decade, if ever. Such as when you’re buying a washing machine.

Yeah, I bought a washing machine. A decent washing machine as well, as far as I can tell. Not one of those fancy fuckers that somehow manages to iron your clothes while it’s removing stains, but one that doesn’t seem to tear apart clothes or walk itself across the room while it’s spinning. A decent washing machine. With short pipes.

That’s the first lesson I learned. Manufacturers assume (not without reason) that the taps, outlets and waste points are going to be right next to where you’re putting the machine. So this means if said taps are more than, say, a metre away they’re not going to reach. No big deal, nothing that a trip to the hardware store can’t fix.

So I hooked it all up, plugged it all in, went for a walk back to the hardware store and picked up a clamp so the extension was properly sealed over the appropriate waste pipe (lesson number 2 learnt – always buy a clamp). Realised they’d sent me the wrong fucking washing machine. Gave the company a call, was told that I could keep it if I wanted. Did a quick Google and discovered that this was a probably a slightly better machine than what I ordered. Decided to keep it. Wondered how the bloody hell these people were still in business. Figured the answer was probably “because the internet” (lesson number 3 – the internet). Ran a quick fifteen minute cycle to clean the machine out.

Then I finally did some laundry. And that’s when I learned the big lesson. Never put whites through as your first load in a new machine.

Now I searched the inside of the washing machine before I switched it on, but I apparently missed the silicon pack hiding in the barrel. I’d run desperately low on the clean white shirts I’m required to wear to work, so in they went, and out came the murder evidence.

Seriously, they were streaked and splattered with lines and splotches of vibrant red, as if I’d been finishing each shift by bottling all the customers I didn’t like. As if I’d been out American-Psychoing hookers, hobos and coworkers without wearing the appropriate raincoat or protective smock. As if I’d seen seen the re-animated body of Jackson Pollock working a canvas with a can filled with what may or may not have been red paint, raised both arms and cried “have at it!”

Fuck my life, is what I’m trying to get at.

I needed the shirts the next day, so I pulled out the gel pack and resisted the urge to take it outside and peg it at a moving vehicle. The stain removal spray came out, the shirts went back in with my hopes and prayers. And to my surprise most of them came out passable clean. A few faint marks on the sleeves or hems, where I could hide it, but otherwise clean and white. Except for one, which still looks like Exhibit A two more washes later, and which I’ll have to soak in some proper stain remover. But that’s okay.

So life lesson learned. Never put your whites in first when you’re breaking in a new washing machine.

But when am I going to use that information again?

Old School Movie Reviews: Hot Fuzz (2007)

So it was my brother’s birthday recently so we had a bit of a thing tonight to celebrate. We all gathered at the family house, mum made sushi and dumplings, and we all sat down to watch a movie together. Since it was my brother’s birthday he chose the film, and thankfully he has pretty good taste in movies, picking the second in Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright’s so-called ‘Cornetto Trilogy,’ Hot Fuzz.

Let me just come out and say that I fucking love this film, and I think everyone should watch it. It’s a masterpiece of clever ideas that are executed perfectly, and not just by the headliners. Pegg and Frost fit their roles perfectly, but so does everyone else in the cast (Timothy Dalton, in particular, is bloody excellent). Edgar Wright, who directed and co-wrote, does an excellent job at both, providing a clear vision and a brilliantly cohesive narrative out of what is a bit of a convoluted script, but I expect a lot of the credit for that should go to his DoP, Jess Hall, and Film Editor, Chris Dickens. The parallel scenes of Pegg and Frost’s characters bonding over movies while another character is murdered is perfectly cut together.

I think what really impressed me about Hot Fuzz with this most recent viewing was the way it managed to be gruesome without ever being gratuitous. Blood and gore is played for laughs, certainly. There are decapitations, stabbings, and one bloke gets his head crushed by a giant stone spike. But they never spend so long on the gore that it becomes uncomfortable, so the film is able to maintain its humorous tone despite what happens with a bear trap. If you’re making an absurd, violent black comedy, this is the standard you should look towards.

So yeah, watch Hot Fuzz if you haven’t already. Watch it again if you have.

I’d absolutely watch that: A quick thought on M*A*S*H

So I’m at the bar and staring at a few gin bottles and for some reason my mind wandered across to the show M*A*S*H (possibly because of all the recent talk about North Korea and Kim Jong-Un’s continued testing of bigger and better missiles and talk of a possible US military response, possibly because we’ve got a Korean bartender and two Korean cooks who are just awesome, and make the best fucking fried chicken you’ll ever taste). My mind goes to weird places sometimes. Anyway, I’ve had to explain to someone recently about how gin is grain alcohol that’s had juniper berries added somehow (generally infused). That without juniper berries it’s just not gin, it’s vodka. At this point I remembered Hawkeye and Trapper (later B.J Hunnicut) had a love of dry gin martinis, going so far as to keep a gin still in their tent, and a question occurred to me: where were they getting their juniper berries?

Seriously, where were they getting their juniper berries from? They’re in an army hospital a few miles from the frontlines of what was a massive fucking war, often struggling to get supplies and equipment even through the black market (in fact that was the theme of a couple of episodes if I remember correctly), and juniper berries are not native to the Korean peninsula. But they clearly say they are drinking gin martinis and, as I’ve already mentioned, without juniper it’s just not gin. It’s vodka.

What I’m getting to is that I would totally watch a show about a Korean black market juniper dealer braving snipers and shelling to ensure that US army doctors can enjoy their dry martinis without having to resort to using vodka (like peasants). We can call it SM*A*S*Hed, or something less stupid and copyright-infringing, and it can be about more than just juniper. Maybe he also smuggles peat to a Scottish tank crew? Maybe he’s struggling to fill and then transport a big order of sugarcane to an Australian warship with a monopoly over the supply of rum to the rest of the allied fleets. There’s a lot you could do with this. Give him a dark yet hilarious past and a sassy cockney lesbian business partner and I reckon you’ve got television gold.

There you go Alan Alda, I’ve done the hard work for you. Now make it happen. ‘Cause I’d watch the hell out of that.

Not always appropriate travel music

Do you love songs that you never actually listen to?

Anyone that knows me well can you that my love of Bostonian Celtic-punk rockers The Dropkick Murphys runs as long and deep as Spicy McHaggis’ famous pipes and infamous pipe. They’ve been one of my favourite bands since I was old enough to know what good music sounds like and remain one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen, not least because a Murphys’ audience is one of the best fucking mobs you can ever be a part of. Their latest album, 11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory, is another collection of epic distilled into musical form. A group of anthems and ballads telling stories of love, loss and missing hats. Take this fella right here:

Yeah, that right there? That anthem right there is everything I love about hard rock. Big, loud and proud. Strong and powerful, offering hope through the guarantee of community and support. Wind, rain, storms, violence, tragedy. Come what fucking may there’ll always be someone beside you. So stand tall and dream big. How can you resist singing along to a chorus like that?

I can’t, so nine times out of ten when it comes on through my earphones I hit the skip button.

If I’m listening to music odds are good that I’m at work (in which case I have no choice over the music being played), I’m in the car listening to the radio (in which case I also don’t have much of a choice in the playlist), or I’m on the train listening to music through a pair of headphones (where I have full control over the playlist). When a song like ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ comes on I can’t help but sing loud, sing proud, sing tunelessly. And that’s just not polite on the train.

Now I have no problem telling people that I love the Dropkick Murphys, and even less of a problem telling people I love this song. I wouldn’t be writing this if I did. But no one in a crowded train (or bus) carriage wants to listen to someone else’s music. Definitely not just the chorus sung badly without any musical accompaniment. There’s a name for people who do that, and it starts with ‘C’ and rhymes with ‘runt.’

So I never really listen to this song, but I don’t love it any less. And when I do I’m probably singing along at the top of my voice.

What about you? Any songs you love but never listen to?

The Bakery

Over in Haberfield, not far from where I live these days, is the superbly named Sunshine Bakery. In a neighbourhood known for its Italian patisseries, cafes, pizzerias, delicatessens, and, indeed, bakeries, the Sunshine is unique for the fact that it is actually Vietnamese.

At least we all seem to assume it’s Vietnamese. Now that I think about it this might actually be a case of racial stereotyping since, as any true gluten-eating Aussie can tell you, the Vietnamese are fucking awesome bakers. For the sake of brevity, and not starting an entirely different discussion, I’m going to continue assuming it’s Vietnamese, and if someone can confirm or deny the fact please let me know.

Anyway, the Sunshine Bakery is a bit of a landmark for those who’ve lived and continue to live in Haberfield. It hasn’t changed at all from what I remember of the first time I got sent there to pick up a loaf of bread fifteen-odd years ago (Christ I’m getting old). A little tacky, a nice smell, an easy place to get a cheap cheese and bacon roll or something sweet and mostly sugar. Good folk too, always very friendly, honest smiles.

Now, I want to be forthright here: they do not make the best bread and pastries in Haberfield. Honestly they don’t even make the best pastries on the block. But their meat pies mate, their meat pies are the best in a fifteen kilometre radius. The pastry’s soft without falling apart and flaky on top, with the right sized chunks of meat and fresh-as-can-be ingredients, all kept at the perfect eating temperature and sold at a very reasonable price (three-fifty for a steak and mushroom! I’m bloody laughing mate). There’s nowhere within a reasonable distance that sells as good a pie, and nowhere even further out that sells’em at a non-extortionist rate (which I will still pay, because I will do a lot for a good pie), making the Sunshine Bakery an absolute gem.

I feel like there’s a metaphor there: Asian immigrants in a primarily Anglo-Italian neighbourhood producing an iconic Australian cuisine. A good metaphor, I reckon. The kind you can staple to an Australia First Party member’s racist face.

I’ll think of it later, right now I feel like a pie.

Any good pie shops near you?